Inquiry into the Origin of Religion
WE are confronted to-day with a difficult problem—What is the origin of religion? In the opinion of many it is futile to attempt to solve it; yet I think we are bound to face the question. The reluctance of those who decline to consider it often arises from positivist leanings oftener perhaps from indolence. Persons of the former class hesitate to take a single step beyond the domain of what is directly perceptible while those of the latter think it safer and more comfortable to persuade themselves and others that the problem is insoluble. But neither of these grounds ought to prevent us from at least considering it if our science is to continue worthy of its name.
Let us begin by stating the question as accurately as possible. For it seems to me that there is still a good deal of misunderstanding about the matter. The question is not How did religion arise or in other words what is its origin in the history of mankind? The question is Whence does it spring not in one instance but in all or what is its source in man's spiritual life? These two questions are doubtless inseparable and are therefore often confounded; but they are by no means identical. The first relates to religion as the aggregate of all those phenomena that we call religious. It is an historical question. For although we possess no historical record of the oldest forms of religion either in written documents or in trustworthy traditions yet historical science which requires to invoke divination and intuition to create a distinct picture of the past even when such records exist can also with their aid give us an approximate idea of these forms as they existed in prehistoric times. From what it knows about historic religions it endeavours to deduce and reconstruct those of primitive ages. Convinced that the spiritual life of man must always have been governed by the same laws and reasoning from the analogy of what we observe in children and in uncivilised peoples we may form a picture of what religion was in those days when the earliest germs of civilisation began to burst forth. Such a picture must of course be purely hypothetical but it is of the same nature as that by means of which astronomers try to explain the origin of the solar system and it is quite as justifiable. We must not attach undue value to it but we must admit that the historical inquirer is fully entitled to adopt this method of forming his conclusions.
Such an inquiry belongs however to the morphological part of our science while we are at present concerned with its ontological side. It relates to the beginnings of religious development and we might justifiably now pass it over in silence. We must however without dwelling too long on the subject examine the chief answers that have been given to the question if only to show that they by no means solve our problem as has often been supposed.
We shall have to examine two different hypotheses as to the beginnings of religion—a religious-philosophical and an anti-religious philosophical. Let us take the first in the form given to it by the German philosopher Fechner.1
According to him belief in God rests upon divine revelation but that revelation is mainly internal being external only in so far as it is communicated by nature's language of signs just as the first revelation made by parents to their children is communicated by means of gestures. Nature he argues is so ordered as to make men recognise the existence of a power above them. So long as he was unable to distinguish between body and soul he could make no such distinction as regards external nature. He there saw powers greater than his own at work such powers as the sun the heavens the storm and the thunder. With these powers he put himself into relation just as he would do with human beings higher than himself. And thus at the very fountainhead of religion the theoretical and the practical principle would work together; and in so far as nature as well as man lives in God and God works in both so the impressions produced both by nature and man's practical needs would in reality be only the working of God Himself upon the being created by Him. The origin of belief in God was thus the working of original divine inspiration through nature and the human soul.
Although this theory has much to recommend it it is impossible to regard it as an answer to the problem we are now trying to solve. It still requires to be explained—not how men came to recognise the existence of a might superior to their own for even animals are aware of its existence; or what made them see in external nature the operation of higher powers of which animals too have some glimmering apprehension—but what induced men to put themselves into relation with these higher powers as they are wont to do with their superior fellow-men? Herein lies the specifically religious element. God reveals Himself to man through nature and through man's own soul—yes but what is it that gives the human soul the necessary receptivity for such divine revelation? We wish in short to ascertain the psychological foundation of religion.
The same remarks apply to the anti-religious theory. According to that theory religion is a consequence of man's ignorance. Being as yet unable to distinguish between the subjective and the objective he personifies the impersonal powers of nature and attributes to them emotions and a will analogous to those of which he is himself conscious. Fear and hope—for he knows his dependence on the powers of nature—impel him to propitiate these powers as if they were human princes and potentates whose favour may be gained by entreaties and gifts. Religion thus took shape and was then handed down from generation to generation. At a later period when people had outgrown these childish notions they tried in order to adapt religion to the demands of a higher civilisation to clothe it in a more æsthetic a philosophical scientific or even ethical garb. But people who think that all these conceptions however modified are always in point of fact nothing but freaks of imagination must necessarily discard religion altogether and conclude that it is incompatible with our present knowledge of nature.
Now this hypothesis even as an attempt to account for the origin of religion is open to a good many objections. But if we assume for a moment that it fairly represents the way in which the earliest form of religion originated it accounts after all for nothing but the form; it accounts for nothing but those childish notions which result from lack of scientific knowledge and from general ignorance—for religion itself it cannot account. Long after men had given up such childish notions long after they had outgrown the mythological and dogmatic conceptions which took their place religion still survived. And when we are told that none of the creations of our imagination none of our dreams and subjective emotions have any objective existence we are told nothing new. We have got beyond Animism Therianthropism and Anthropomorphism. We no longer think of the Deity as a roving spirit or as an animal or half-animal or even as a perfect man. We fear to make any image of God we even deem it profanation. And if we apply to Him our conceptions of self-consciousness and personality we do so with much reservation and hasten to make it clear that we do not mean these terms to include any idea of limitation. We use them simply because they express the highest elements in our own nature while we quite admit that God—though not indeed unknown to man for we know Him by His works around us and within us—is the Ineffable the Illimitable the Inscrutable. Yet even those who recognise this truth including not a few distinguished men of science and profound philosophic thinkers still cling to religion and do not feel compelled to abandon it. Religion must therefore surely be something more than a mere confusion of subject and object. Surely it cannot be founded on a mistake on an intellectual aberration. Observe I am not speaking here as an apologist. I am not pleading on behalf of the truth of religion and its right to exist. I merely say that so superficial an explanation as the above can never satisfy even the purely scientific and philosophical inquirer.
Whatever therefore be our conception of the earliest form of religion the anti-religious hypothesis—even were it unalloyed with the ulterior object of branding religion itself as a fruit of ignorance—cannot help us to find religion's actual source. Assuming that religion began with Naturism the worship of the powers of nature and of natural phenomena as if they were animate beings; or that it began with Animism in the form we have called Spiritism that is to say the worship of spirits embodied in all kinds of objects and roaming from one to another at will; or that it began when men advanced from the worship of superior living men such as princes priests and prophets and even of deceased relations and ancestors to that of superhuman beings who were then usually the personified powers of phenomena of nature;—assuming further that all these superhuman beings were but creations of fancy and that all these conceptions are easily accounted for by primitive man's untutored state of mind and his in experience of human nature and the world;—the question still remains What prompted him to imagine such beings? Imagination only creates images of thoughts already present to the mind. And although these thoughts are always awakened by the influence of some external stimulus they are only awakened not created by such influence. Unless the stimulus finds something responsive within the man himself it yields no fruit. What is this responsiveness in the case of religion? That is our question.
We cannot enter upon a complete history of this question. The time at our disposal will not even allow us to review and criticise all the answers that have been given to it. Some of these are wide as the poles apart others present slight variations only. As a bare enumeration of them would be unprofitable I propose to reduce the various solutions to some of the main types under which the more important may be grouped.
The first type is that which regards religion as the result of some process of reasoning. To this class belongs the theory which derives religion from what has been called the instinct of causality and which may be stated thus: “Man is impelled by virtue of his innate mode of thinking to seek for the cause of everything he perceives. He does not find out the natural causes of things until a late period. This demands toilsome research the results of which can only be accepted on the ground of authority by the less gifted who are scarcely able even to follow the methods employed. The discovery of laws of nature further requires profound study while the mass of mankind are ignorant of their very existence. Whatever therefore he cannot explain on natural grounds (which at first means almost everything) the unsophisticated observer ascribes to invisible intangible supernatural or at least to superhuman causes which he necessarily conceives as thinking feeling and willing beings and which thus become his gods. The further he progresses in his knowledge of nature the wider the domains of science become the more the chain of causes is lengthened so much the more the supernatural element will be thrust into the background. But however well he can now account on natural grounds for what he once attributed to direct divine interposition there still remains something which baffles every attempt to explain it on such grounds; there still remains the question Who laid down these laws of nature who called into being the marvellous order of the world? There will still remain the ceaseless search for a highest and at the same time final cause. This gives rise to a belief in God and of such belief religion is the fruit.”
That this peculiarity of the human mind contributes to the genesis of religion I do not dispute; and still less would I deny that it is a factor in the formation of the conceptions of faith. But it is impossible to admit that it is the actual source of religion itself. It may give birth to philosophy and science it may form the basis of a philosophical system and it may convey some idea of the order of the world to those who cannot study science or philosophy but it cannot produce religion. For religion is something more than a recognition of supernatural causes or of a highest cause. The savage for instance does not make gods of all the powers which he regards as beings of a higher order and also as conscious beings. Some of them he recognises but does not worship; there are not a few whom he even exorcises opposes or tries to banish. It therefore still requires to be explained how he comes to put himself into relation with these beings to suppose that he is somehow akin to them and even to ascribe to them mental and moral qualities which have no connection with their functions as powers of nature.
The above explanation having proved unsatisfactory other solutions have been attempted. Religion arises according to Rauwenhoff from the coincidence of man's moral consciousness with the naturalistic and animistic views of the world. Man would then arrive at religious conviction by a process of reasoning like the following: “I hear a voice within me which often bids me to do what conflicts with my wishes and inclinations or forbids me to do precisely what I most ardently desire. Whether I call that voice conscience or an unconditional sense of duty or a categorical imperative it testifies of a power above me which acts and rules within me.” This power then is the God whom he obeys serves and adores. Even in the lower strata of religion men figure to themselves a certain moral order of the world although in a very primitive form and this moral order must have a director and an origin. Such directors then become his gods whom he identifies with the powers of nature which inspire him with hope and fear; and thus he comes to ascribe to them mental faculties. Here too we see the instinct of causality at work; but it is not by its application to the phenomena of nature alone that religion is produced. This result is only reached when that instinct is also applied to moral phenomena.
This hypothesis places me rather in a dilemma as I can neither accept nor reject it. At a later stage we shall see that it contains a germ of truth. At all events it proceeds upon a due observation of the facts. It is true that the mental emotion commonly called conscience is often objectivised as a warning and reproving voice from a higher world echoed in man's inmost soul. It is not Christians only who recognise it as a divine voice. In all the religions of antiquity we find that the accusing voice of an uneasy conscience gives rise to a dread of the wrath of the gods who chastise guilty man by fire and sword famine and pestilence or to a fear of the Erinyes or avenging Furies and Angels of destruction. Nay so closely has conscience always been associated with religion that we use liberty of conscience and religious liberty as synonyms. Nor can it be denied that man's moral consciousness or sense of duty if this term be preferred is an important factor in the genesis and the subsequent development of religion. And no one will dispute that it exerts a great influence on the formation and progress of the conceptions of faith. But this is by no means tantamount to saying that it is the origin of religion.
The chief difficulty however consists in the vagueness of the ideas here dealt with. There is some difference of opinion as to the precise meaning of the terms conscience and unconditional sense of duty. In the Romanic languages “conscience” generally has more meanings than one. What is conscience in the religious sense? Some authorities (like Schenkel) not only deduce religion from it but make it the foundation of a complete dogmatic system; others (like Opzoomer and Rauwenhoff) maintain that it is entirely devoid of content and is purely of a formal nature. If we adopt the latter view of it the term “unconditional sense of duty” would in fact lose all moral significance as it might quite as well lead us astray and prompt us to commit the most atrocious crimes as indicate the right path of purity and virtue. According to this view it was the dictates of conscience that alike prompted the worshippers of Moloch (properly Melek or Malik) to make their children pass through the fire in the Valley of Gehinnom and impelled the prophets to inveigh against the practice in the name of Yahve; the martyrs whom neither threats nor torture nor death could induce to renounce their faith and their persecutors who threw them to the lions or burned them at the stake acted alike from conscientious motives; Creon who refused to bury the body of Polynices as being that of a traitor and Antigone who disregarded the royal command in order to obey the behests of the gods were equally conscientious. Some fallacy must lurk here. Is it not just as if one should refuse to distinguish between good coin and base? Or to take a more germane illustration does it not amount to putting the wholesome creations of an imagination inspired by religious sentiment on a level with the distorted phantoms that haunt the brain of a fever-stricken patient or a madman? It is therefore a sound moral instinct that prompts us to speak of a misdirected or deadened conscience. And we should do well to consider carefully whether actions which are apparently prompted by conviction or conscientious motives do not in reality emanate from a disordered brain or from a mind actuated by the lower passions. It is also worth noting that while the words conscience and sense of duty are chiefly used in a moral sense they are employed with an analogous meaning in many other domains in art and science and generally in what may be called the worship of the beautiful and the true. Do we not for instance often speak of a conscientious work of art or of a conscientious scientific research? In short the doctrine of conscience and sense of duty urgently requires revision; and before we can draw conclusions from it regarding the source of religion we must have some clearer definition of the emotions it embraces and of their true significance.
It is certain at all events that this last theory is also open to the objection that it makes religion the product of reasoning whereas reasoning and reflection are always of later growth. It is undoubtedly true that conscience is generally understood to mean the voice of some higher being like the δαιμόνιον τι or genius in which Socrates believed; but the question constantly recurs How came men to hear that voice? It may be quite true that religious persons explain these emotions by a process of reasoning; but they are religious first and they reason afterwards. What makes them religious? That is what we want to know.
If religion cannot be the product of reasoning we may perhaps try to find its origin in sentiment. In this direction also various attempts have already been made. It has been thought sufficient to lay it down that the source of religion must be sought for in a special religious sense or feeling—a solution of the problem which reminds us of a well-known saying of Goethe that where thoughts are lacking at the right time a word is often aimlessly uttered. For this is an explanation that explains nothing except that the philosopher who propounded it must have been sadly at a loss for ideas.
Of course there is such a thing as religious feeling just as there are religious thought and religious will just as there is an artistic feeling a moral feeling a sense of truth; and such religious feeling is a proof of the existence of religion but it does not advance us a single step in our investigation. Nor do we get any help from the “unconditional sense of dependence” in which Schleiermacher seeks for the source of religion. Not however that this explains nothing for it certainly explains one of the elements of religion; but it does not account for religion as a whole. We need not however criticise this theory more fully as it has long since been rejected as inadequate by all competent authorities.
But there is another theory the advocates of which rightly keep in view all the component parts of religious life and which if we were to take into account both the number and the authority of the voices in its favour might be regarded as conclusively established. For it has met with the approval of some of the greatest thinkers of modern times and of men of entirely different schools. A Hegelian of the extreme “left” like Feuerbach one of the “right” like Lipsius and Eduardvon Hartmann Otto Pfleiderer (who however since 1878 has abandoned it for another theory) and at an earlier period Zeller and Hoekstra have all accepted it with slight variations as the best explanation of the origin of religion. And some twenty years ago I agreed with them. Although I do not now think that it brings us to our goal I am still of opinion that it carries us in the right direction.
This theory is that religion is the result of a conflict between the sense of self and the sense of necessity or as it is sometimes put that it is produced by the tension between man's self-consciousness and his consciousness of the world. Rauwenhoff one of its opponents has stated it with great clearness. The argument may be summarised as follows: Man placed in a world where he is surrounded by many different powers which endanger his welfare and his very existence but conscious of his right to exist in that world seeks for help and support in a power to which the world itself is subject. This power he finds in the beneficent powers of nature to which he owes his subsistence and salvation and which he therefore personifies and worships. Or as it is more simply expressed by Feuerbach “the fundamental hypothesis (die Grundvoraussetzung) of belief in God is man's wish to be God himself. Man however soon discovers to his sorrow that he is not a god; and what he wishes to be thus becomes merely a conceived a believed an ideal being. Limited in his faculties but unlimited in his wishes man is therefore un-divine in power and un-human in volition. God thus forms the other half that man lacks; what man imperfectly is God is perfectly; what man can only desire to be God actually is. This then is the subjective side of the process; the objective side is afforded by the phenomena of nature by what is experienced by the actuality in the world around him with which he associates his ideal persons.” This at any rate is a fine piece of psychological analysis and one that we can appreciate although we repudiate Feuerbach's negative conclusion that the whole process is purely subjective. He regards it as a process of mere self-delusion in which there is nothing real “except man's desire that it should be so” a dictum which we should expect from his exaggerated intellectualism and what has been called his anthropologism but which falls entirely beyond the province of scientific criticism.
You will observe that the instinct of causality—that necessary cast of human thought which impels men to seek for the cause of everything and which is thus supposed to account for the origin of religion—has been adopted in this case also though only as a subordinate part of the more comprehensive theory. For to this instinct alone we must attribute the hypothesis that men regard the desires of their heart transformed into persons by their inventive imagination as the causes of the powers they see at work in nature. I therefore think that the psychological process above mentioned might be described somewhat differently. The personification of the powers which primitive man sees at work in nature is not the outcome of his religious consciousness. It is rather a rudimentary philosophy a crude cosmogony. His gods are originally and essentially ideal personages some only of whom perhaps the majority but certainly not all of whom he identifies with the beings that preside over the phenomena of nature. By virtue of the law of the unity of the human mind men are constrained to bring their religious and their philosophical views into harmony. And thus arise nature-gods and nature-myths which are not however and never have been the only ones. It is a very common error and one against which I emphatically protest to suppose that all the gods were once nature-gods and all the myths nature-myths. Were this the case the evolution of ethical religions out of the naturistic would be inexplicable for it would be impossible. Along with the naturistic element we discern even among the lowest strata of religions a spiritualistic element; and it is from this germ which has taken root and grown up in the soul of some rarely gifted personage or has attained full maturity in some small community that the spiritualistic-ethical religions have emanated. To this element belong from the outset many beings of the spiritualistic period. In the same category though on a higher level and still within the limits of the nature-religions we may place the Greek Moirê Atê Dikê Nikê Litai and many others; and so too the personified abstractions of the Romans such as Salus Honos Virtus Pax Libertas Pietas and Pudicitia some of which abstractions came at a later period to be associated with higher nature-gods. And is it not noteworthy that the great gods gradually lose the character of nature-gods which they had from the outset? For we observe that their divine personality gradually becomes disengaged so to speak from their natural; and so much so that we are often now ignorant indeed their own worshippers were at loss to say what agency of nature they represented. I need not now dwell longer on this matter but it offers a rich field for further study. I should like however to make it clear that this theory of the origin of nature-myths has got beyond the point at which the origin of religion should have been accounted for and has passed on to an explanation of the genesis of the forms of religion.
It seems to me that the chief objections to the theory just sketched arise partly from the fact that it combines the impulses of religious with those of philosophical needs partly from the form of abstract speculation in which it has been clothed by the philosophers of religion and partly also from the conclusion to which it has led Feuerbach. But I have another objection to it. Though we regard as unwarranted his dictum that all is delusion though we divest the hypothesis of its technical terms and remove from it all that pertains to a purely philosophical cosmogony yet it still continues to account for the origin of the conception of faith rather than for religious belief itself and for the piety and adoration which we found to be the essence of religion. This is apparent for instance from the words in which Pfleiderer describes it: “The seeking and finding of a power at once akin to man and exalted above him which in communion with him completely supplements his being—that is the origin of belief in God.”
Yet as I have said this theory leads us a step in the right direction. I shall therefore disregard all the other theories and merely mention the latest that of Professor Siebeck who traces religion to man's dissatisfaction with the world and the worldly as such whence religion derives its character of world-negation (“Weltverneinung”)—a theory however which is closely akin to the one just discussed. Passing over all these attempts to solve our problem I shall now submit to you my own view of the subject and endeavour to explain the conclusions I have reached.
Religion says Feuerbach proceeds from man's wishes desires and aspirations which he then comes to regard as objects and which he worships as higher beings; or according to others it is the outcome of his dissatisfaction with the external world which begets the desire for a super-terrestrial world. No one denies that such desires and such dissatisfaction actually exist and find utterance in many ways. But whence do they come? Why is man discontented with his condition and surroundings? Why should he torment himself with wishes which he never sees fulfilled anywhere around him and which the rationalistic philosopher declares to be illusions? Why is he not as sensible as the dumb animal the senseless beast of the field as he calls it in his pride which never wearies itself with seeking for what the earth does not produce or what earthly existence does not offer but is satisfied with what is within its reach and lives happy and content? Why? Surely because he cannot help it. Mere animal selfish enjoyment cannot satisfy him permanently because he feels that as a man he has an inward impulse which constrains him to overstep the boundaries of the finite and to strive after an infinite perfection though he knows it to be unattainable for him as an earthly being. The Infinite the Absolute very Being as opposed to continual becoming and perishing—or call it as you will—that is the principle which gives him constant unrest because it dwells within him.
At this point of our inquiry we encounter Professor Max Müller. According to him the perception or apprehension of the Infinite the yearning of the soul after God is the source of all religion in the human heart.2
This he thinks can be shown by historical evidence to have been the one element shared by all religions in common3
and he has several times tried to demonstrate that man really apprehends this infinite. Though attacked on all sides he has adhered to his proposition and has endeavoured to justify it by further explanations. By apprehension and even by sensuous perception he says that he only meant the pressure which that Infinite brings to bear on our senses and by means of which it asserts its presence.4
He also distinguished between the divine presence which Kant beheld in the starry firmament which represents the infinite in nature and that divine presence which he perceived in his own conscience or within his own invisible self which is the infinite in man.5
And when he was charged with an unpardonable anachronism in assigning so abstract a term as the Infinite to the earliest period of the human intellect he replied that this abstract term like all others originated in something very concrete from which the idea we now form of it has gradually developed.6
Notwithstanding this defence I am at a loss to discover the origin of religion in a perception of the Infinite. It seems to me very much like a sophism on the part of that distinguished writer to say that man on the brink of the Finite perceivable by him perceives the Infinite. Man assumes it he postulates it he cannot help thinking that infinity lies on the farther side of the boundary of his perception but he cannot actually see it. It is only a hypothesis though it be one he is driven to set up. The phrase “perception of the Infinite” seems moreover to be a contradiction in terms unless inward perception is meant a perception of the Infinite within us. It is only when Professor Müller appeals to the latter that I am at one with him.
I do not however assert that religion emanates from a perception of the Infinite within us because such perception requires a considerable measure of self-knowledge and reflection which is only attainable long after religion has come into existence long after the religious spirit has revealed itself. The origin of religion consists in the fact that man has the Infinite within him even before he is himself conscious of it and whether he recognises it or not. Whether this be an illusion or truth we do not at present inquire; nor does the question strictly belong to the scope of our research. We merely state a fact; and we may express it in the just and beautiful language of Alfred de Musset—
“Je ne puis; malgré moi l'Infini me tourmente
Je n'y saurais songer sans crainte et sans espoir;
Et quoi qu'on en aft dit ma raison s'épouvante
De ne pas le comprendre et pourtant de le voir”—
provided of course we understand the last word in a figurative and not in a literal sense.
Whatever name we give it—instinct or an innate original and unconscious form of thought or form of conception—it is the specifically human element in man the idea which dominates him. He gives it precedence over the Finite; for with this he only becomes acquainted by means of the perception of his senses and it is only later that he converts it by means of reasoning into a general idea. But it is neither by perception nor by reflection that he acquires the idea of the Infinite although that idea finds support in psychological perceptions and becomes an object of reflection. Even primitive man as soon as he comes to apprehend the Finite regards it as perplexing and unnatural. It has been observed in the case of children for example that they are unable to form any conception of death. And so too there are childlike peoples. Like the author of the description of Paradise in the Book of Genesis they all take for granted that man is by nature immortal and not that his immortality requires to be proved but that his death requires to be accounted for. Mr Andrew Lang in his recent work 7
has given us a series of very interesting examples of this. Like everything finite death seems to people in the earliest stages of civilisation an unnatural thing. Something must surely have happened to bring so illogical an event into the world. It must be the work of hostile spirits or of sorcery; it must have been caused by some crime or transgression perhaps even by some imprudence or mistake. The traditions of many different peoples differing in origin and in development express the same idea. There was a time when neither sickness nor death was known upon earth. According to Persian traditions the oldest race of men never died but still lives under its mythical chief in tranquil beatitude far from the suffering and dying humanity of these latter ages. According to the Babylonian legend the first race of men was destroyed as a punishment for their evil deeds; but one just man was saved along with his tribe; and to these an everlasting habitation has been assigned where the brave hero of the sun can alone enter to disturb their repose. The unsophisticated savage cannot even believe in death when he sees it before his eyes. He calls it a sleep a condition of unconsciousness; the spirit has quitted the body but it may return. And so he always watches for several days to see if this will happen—a custom which still survives in some of the higher strata of civilisation as in China and among the Zarathushtrians. And if the dead man's spirit does not return why then he has only vanished in order to enter into another body or to join the super-terrestrial spirits. And when at length the savage has passed that stage and when experience has taught him but too clearly that not a single man exists who is not subject to death then as we have already seen he consoles himself by creating the most glorious expectations for the future visions of unalloyed happiness and everlasting bliss!
And it is to these illusions as Feuerbach has called them to these self-deceptions to this Fata Morgana this will-of-the-wisp that religion is said to owe its origin! Can such childish dreams have given rise to that faith which has proved so stupendous a power in the world's history at once destroying and inspiring or to those hopes which have sustained millions of our fellow-men amidst terrible sufferings and lightened their eyes in the agony of death? Some people may answer in the affirmative. But it is certainly not these childish imaginings that give rise to religion. The process is the very reverse. It is man's original unconscious innate sense of infinity that gives rise to his first stammering utterances of that sense and to all his beautiful dreams of the past and the future. These utterances and these dreams may have long since passed away but the sense of infinity from which they proceed remains a constant quantity. It is inherent in the human soul. It lies at the root of man's whole spiritual life. It is revealed in his intellectual his æsthetic and his moral life. What man of science what philosopher what genuine artist what truly moral man although quite aware of the limitations of his knowledge and ability will not ceaselessly test his powers anew and strive to burst through his barriers? Even the moments of discouragement he experiences prove that he is dissatisfied with the limitations of his activity. And so it is in the religious sphere. Few of those who are completely under the influence of one-sided rationalism or materialism children of a sceptical age which declares everything uncertain that does not rest upon perception by the senses and which overrates empirical science—few of those who feel themselves thus driven to the conclusion that “the infinite within us” is a beautiful but fatal self-deception—can feel happy in that conclusion. They will perhaps try to brave it out. The more uncomfortable they feel inwardly the more loudly perhaps they will boast. Or they will fall into a gloomy pessimism and they will ask—either in private ashamed of the confession or in public and not without bitterness—Is life worth living? Or perhaps like the sceptic poet they will confess with charming candour that “malgré moi l'Infini me tourmente!”
It would fall beyond the province of our science to prove that this belief in the infinite within us is well-founded and to vindicate the right of religion to exist. Our science is psychological and its task is merely to search for the origin of religion in man's spiritual life. We leave the rest to Apologetics and Dogmatics and on the theoretical side to Metaphysics or that general philosophy which seeks to fathom the deepest foundation of all things. But though not called upon to prove the truth of religion our science is not entitled to pronounce it an illusion. This would not only be an unwarrantable conclusion but it would make human existence an insoluble riddle it would brand mankind as crazy dreamers it would pronounce the source of all the best work they have ever done in this world to be sheer folly.
A further task however is still incumbent on our science. We must inquire whether the results of sensuous perception are not rather supplemented by those of inward perception than irreconcilably opposed to it. A new field is thus opened up a field of investigation too little cultivated but one which promises a rich harvest. The conclusions it is likely to yield cannot therefore as yet be summed up. An inquiry of this kind would be valuable because unbiassed science ought not to be blind to the truth that man is not merely a reasoning being not merely intellect—the truth that his conduct would be foolish and mean if he did nothing without being able to give a good reason for it or to justify it to his understanding—the truth in short that his emotions as well as his reasoning powers possess their own inalienable rights. And the right of religion is a right of the emotions.
Our object to-day has been to discover whence religion proceeds. It remains to be seen how it wells up from its source. In particular we shall have to determine the place it occupies in man's spiritual life. To this task our concluding lecture will be devoted.